Stray Kernels – What makes us stronger

Posted: February 15, 2018

Drinking tea and discussing life with a friend recently, I started to say, “I’ve been at Farm Bureau almost 20 years.” Perhaps misreading where I was going with that thought, she interjected, “Are you ready for something new?”

Startled, I paused. “Actually… no!” I went on, talking about things that continue to keep my job engaging. I described how it offers so many ways to apply my creativity, and how I never run out of ways to exercise my curiosity. Perhaps more than anything, I explained, is the longer I work here the more I see and appreciate the interconnectedness of our community.

Within my first year at Farm Bureau, I made a half-joking, half-serious rule for myself: “Say nice things about everybody, because everybody in the county is related.” Not that I make a practice of saying unkind things, but you probably know what I mean: sometimes in conversation, one’s occasionally not-so-complimentary inner thoughts can come out to bite you.

The value of my “say only nice things” rule was hammered home quickly. I was riding along in a pickup truck with a farm volunteer who was going to help me give a classroom presentation. As we chatted, I was reminded of a local lady who had just been featured in the newspaper. “I’ve never met her,” I said, “but from what I can tell she seems to have done a lot of good things for young people over the years.” “Oh, yes,” replied my companion. He was quiet for a moment. “Did you know? She’s my sister.” Thank goodness I had said something positive!

Of course community interconnections go beyond family ties. For several years, I was involved in the Kishwaukee Concert Band. I knew the French horn player I sat next to taught biology at NIU, but didn’t give it much thought until one day I read he would be giving a STEM Café presentation on genetic modification. I attended, and discovered “that guy Tom from NIU who plays French horn” was also “Dr. Sims who has done a lot of fascinating research and does a terrific job explaining complicated science topics.”

Later, I invited Tom to speak to our Summer Ag Institute teachers, and several times he provided patient and expert advice when I was writing articles about crop technology. He was someone I met because of a community connection, and his generosity and expertise ended up making me better in my work.

Probably nowhere is the value of community more evident to me than at this time of the year, when I’m in the midst of coordinating the Ag in the Classroom presentations. Asked recently how many volunteers are involved in delivering the presentations each year, I replied, “About a hundred.” A hundred! This has been true for several years, yet the sheer number of people who commit to this program still humbles me.

Ag literacy coordinators from other counties sometimes ask how we engage that many volunteers. I explain that there has long been a tradition or culture of volunteering for Ag in the Classroom here in DeKalb County, starting well before I worked here. But there’s a shorter answer: it’s our community.

Dictionaries define community as groups of people living in the same area or who have common interests. While both of these characteristics are true of our Ag in the Classroom volunteers, I would add: A community consists of individuals who leverage their time, interests, and unique skills to make each other stronger.

Thanks to all of you who make me stronger. I hope I can do the same in return.

Rhodora Collins – Ag Literacy Coordinator